Friday, January 18, 2008

Airline Paranoia

It's not that I'm afraid of flying. But I am paranoid about what airlines will do to me.

I don't think they are going to kill me. But I do believe that there is a vast two-wing conspiracy to do everything possible to disrupt my plans to travel anywhere by air.

Let's just ponder for a few moments the ways that airlines can screw up your travel plans.
  1. They can cancel your flight for any one of several hundred reasons including weather here, weather there, mechanical problems, flight crew didn't show up, flight crew out of hours, flight crew on strike, plane never arrived, can't find the plane, or "the computer worked out that we'd lose money if we actually honored our contract to take you where you want to go, so we're going to pretend we didn't mean it".

  2. They can delay your flight so that you are forced to spend several uncomfortable and excruciatingly boring hours in one of those armpits of the world euphemistically known as an airport lounge.

  3. They can cancel the second leg of your flight so you are forced to rent a car and drive several hundred miles in the middle of the night through some god-forsaken foreign country such as France or Minnesota to reach your destination.

  4. They can cancel the second leg of your flight but then rebook you on a later flight that ensures that you will miss the ferry you were hoping to catch.

  5. They can decide in mid-air that it makes more sense to take you somewhere else than they originally promised. This is how I came to visit Wagga Wagga one fascinating night and then travel to my ultimate destination in the early hours of the morning by the appropriately named Wagga Waggon. It is also how my whole family and I came to celebrate one New Year's Eve on the floor of Pittsburgh Airport. Ah, happy days!

  6. They can damage your luggage.

  7. They can lose your luggage.

Ah. The crux of the matter. It's that last one that I'm really paranoid about when I fly off on one of my overseas sailing trips. I guess I know that one way or another the airline probably will manage to deliver my body,
more or less intact and still in working order, to approximately the right place, probably within the same month that they promised when I bought the ticket. But my checked baggage? That's another issue.

When I used to be one of those businessman types jetting off to visit the far-flung outposts of our corporate empire once or twice a week, of course I never checked baggage. Always stuffed spare shirts and underwear into a carry-on bag and never worried about the lost baggage syndrome. But on a sailing trip I have way too much normal clothing, sailing clothing and sailing gear to use this strategy.

There is nothing worse than showing up for a sailing regatta on the far side of the world missing some or all of your sailing gear. At the Masters Worlds in Spain I met several Australians and New Zealanders in this predicament and, I can tell you, they were a pathetic sight, wandering around disconsolately without their 48 inch carbon fiber tiller extensions. A Laser Master without his tiller is as woeful as John Wayne Bobbit.

So what to do? Well, I have this theory that if you fly non-stop to your ultimate destination the airline basically only has one opportunity to lose your sporting equipment and other luggage. They can just decide not to put it on the plane in the first place. Don't laugh. This has actually happened to me. Not once, but twice. On a ski trip to Vail one winter, and on my trip to the Sunfish Worlds in Colombia, the airlines basically decided that they didn't have room to carry all the passengers' luggage so they just left mine behind. Nice.

But if you have to change planes to reach your target there are a gazillion ways that they can lose your luggage. They can delay the first flight so there is no time for your luggage to make the second flight even if you are on it yourself. They can misplace it at the airport where you are changing planes. They can just forget to transfer it to your second flight. And so on. And so on.

So whenever possible I find a non-stop flight. In travelling to Cabarete for the Carribean Laser Midwinters I decided that I would not fly out of my local major aiport, Boston, because there were no direct flights to Puerto Plata, the closest airport to Caberete in the Dominican Republic. I concluded that it made more sense to drive 200 miles to Newark, stay overnight in an airport hotel (which incidentally let me leave my car in their parking lot while I was away thereby saving me the exorbitant fees for what is laughingly called "economy" parking at Newark airport), and then take the direct flight to Puerto Plata the next morning.

Which is why, two weeks ago, on Thursday night I slipped off to sleep in a slightly anxious mood listening to the hum of the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike ("they've all come to look for America" according to Paul Simon). And on Friday night I drifted off to dreamland to the sounds of the crash of the surf on the reef just off the Punta Cabarete, happy and secure in the knowledge that, once again, I had foiled the best attempts of the US airline industry to separate Tillerman from his tiller.


Zen said...

I feel Ya T-man!!!

Litoralis said...

I call shenanigans...first a post on writer's block, and then a great post showing no signs of the aforementioned writer's block (and containing possibly the most words written in one day on Proper Course.

PeconicPuffin said...

I'm fascinated by the airline industry. It is proof that the free market sometimes does not work. The customers are tortured, the employees are underpaid, and the owners lose money.

It is a complete failure, from stem to stern. It used to not be, but now it is.

Tillerman said...

I guess it just goes to show that the best cure for writer's block is to write some drivel and then write something angry.

Oh and I forgot to mention that most of the action in the Stephen Kng novel that I was reading in "the DR" takes place in an area of Maine known as "the TR".

Spooky, eh?

Anonymous said...

Hi Tman,

I feel your pain. I bought a very nice wood paddle at Island Paddler in Honolulu and the mouth-breathing TSA-cretins said that it was a "club-like object" and wouldn't let me through security with it. I also had an umbrella under my arm (it rains a lot in Hawaii) but they didn't seem to care about that, even though it was a superior weapon. Fortunately, the nice lady at Northwest Airlines baggage check-in gave me some cardboard and tape, and I fashioned a crude box on the spot. What BS.

EVK4 said...

That was a well thought out insightful post but unfortunately it left me with only one impression.

Tillerman without his tiller is just a man.

Please be careful out there. Your identity is at stake.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that kind thought Edward. There is another post about Tillerman's tiller coming up soon.

Zen said...

Ed, that was deep!

Mal Kiely [Lancelots Pram] said...

I've never had the misfortune, myself... but you certainly make me sense the utter frustration of it all.

Airlines. Incompetence. "Must be one of those 'Circle Of Life" kinda things."

Behold the Tiller!

Mal :)

Anonymous said...

Tillerman, what have you done? It may well be that from now on John Wayne Bobbit will dance into my mind as I insert the tiller into the rudder head of my Laser. Not a nice thought...

Fred said...

Tillerman, amazing how you are bringing up those memories. I got caught once in Alexandria, Egypt without my clothes and more important, our 470 (fast Ullman) sails which we brought with us to an invitation regatta. Due to having sweated through the travel-trousers and shirts we borrowed shorts and T-shirts from some Aussies. We had to wear this for several occasions on evening invitations to foreign embassies. (No shop did accept my AMEX-card in the old days. No cash counters like today) I still remember that the US ambassador was not offended by our "out of order" clothing but the German had been. We ended up sailing with old, borrowed sails and wearing the same clothes on and off the water for 3 consecutive days. Lucky the hotel had hairdryers for a quick wash and dry of the clothing.

Fred said...

About loosing your luggage. From todays Scuttlebutt:
>>Many sailors have enjoyed the summer season to train in Australia over the last 2 months; however other sailors had to postpone their training and preparation in Melbourne while gathering funding for their campaign. Class newcomer, Johnny Bilbao from Venezuela made it just in time...but without his luggage and sails lost in transit, somewhere between Carracas, Miami, LA and Melbourne! Finn sailors proved once again they haven't lost their sense of friendship, Czech Michael Maier lent a sail while Australian measurer and OK dinghy sailor Andre Blase brought his bag of sailing gear. Last but not least, Jake Gunther Finn and Etchell sailor had generously lent his boat and mast to Johnny who will be able to start in the regatta with the objective to qualify his country for the Olympics. The Venezuelan is a new recipient on the Finn development programme (FIDeS) which also include Indian sailors Nachhatar Johal and Nitin Mongia.

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